Yamaha’s Ténéré line of bikes, dating back to 1983, was meant to mimic the style and rugged nature of the Paris-Dakar racers famous for traversing some of the most unhospitable regions of planet earth, including the bike’s namesake, the Ténéré region of the Sahara Desert. Now called the Dakar Rally, the race was moved to South America in 2009 due to fears of terrorist attacks. Similarly, the bike itself has undergone changes, and newer iterations have become more street- and touring-oriented, yet they retain the robust and sturdy nature of the originals.
What is it?
The 2018 Super Ténéré ES ABS ($18,099) boasts a host of technologies to rival a German luxury sedan: electronic suspension, ABS, unified brake system, heated grips, cruise control, traction control, throttle-by-wire with dual-mode throttle control, LED rear lighting, and dual LCD displays. There’s a large 23-litre fuel tank, dual aluminum 32-litre side cases, rear rack, four-position adjustable windscreen, two-position adjustable seat height, and a dash mounted DC outlet, which all complement the bike’s touring capabilities. The powerplant is an 1,199cc parallel-twin hung as a stressed member in a steel backbone frame with an aluminum swingarm, rolling on 19-inch front and 17-inch rear spoked wheels. A six-speed transmission routes power via shaft drive, and dual disc brakes in front and a single disc at the rear handle stopping duties.
The electronic suspension is one of the stand-out features of this bike. Preload and damping adjustments can be made from the saddle via the left handlebar mounted switches and the LCD display. Preload adjustment is done with the bike at a standstill, with four pre-sets: rider alone, rider with cargo, two-up, and two-up with cargo. The damping settings change automatically with each preload setting, but can also be fine-tuned with a soft, standard and hard configuration. These three damping pre-sets can each be further customized within a seven-step range (from plus three to minus three, including zero). So for example, for the cushiest ride possible, set the preload to rider alone, set the damping setting to soft, with the soft pre-set set at minus three. The damping adjustments can be made while moving, and make a noticeable difference over bumpier surfaces. I found a deserted stretch of patched and potholed road and made multiple passes with each setting, and the ride ranged from teeth-chattering choppy to couch cushy. The future is now.
On the other end of the refinement spectrum lies the engine. It is a raw beast, with a rumbling exhaust note from its 270-degree crankshaft. As suits a bike of this nature, it makes power in the low- and mid-range, and tapers off a bit before the relatively low 8,000 RPM redline. It sends a noticeable but not uncomfortable amount of vibration through the bars and pegs, and at certain RPM makes the mirrors a bit of a blur, but it suits the character of this type of workhorse motorcycle thoroughly.
The motor’s vibrations can’t make their way through the wide, well-padded seat. Adjusted to the high position, legroom is ample, but the reach to the ground might be intimidating to some. (Those riders will definitely find some comfort in the lower saddle position, but this is certainly a tall and heavy bike that won’t suit all riders.)
What’s it like to ride?
Out on the road, the comfortable seat and tall windscreen make for a pleasant highway voyage, and the excellent cruise control system is the icing on the touring cake. A chilly morning commute allowed me to try out the heated grips, which, along with the plastic hand guards, made my cold weather gloves unnecessary. The foot pegs feature serrated metal edges with rubber inserts in the middle. While seated, the rubber inserts sit taller than the metal edges and dampen vibration, but if the rider stands and places more weight on the feet, the rubber inserts collapse and allow the serrated metal edges to engage the rider’s boot soles, increasing foot traction. Very clever.
With the suspension set to full soft, the bike is a Laz-E-Boy on two wheels that can eat kilometres like those German sedans. Bend it into a corner at sane speeds, and the bike is planted like an oak tree, with mid-corner bumps disappearing under the wheels as if they were desert mirages. Start to push the cornering envelope and a degree of wallowing from the long travel suspension becomes apparent, but the bike remains completely stable, if a bit floaty. A flick of the thumb to set the damping to “hard” and things firm up just enough. Similarly, hard braking in the softer settings brings considerable front-end dive. The bike remains composed, but using the firmer suspension damping settings reduces the diving tendency when leaning hard on the binders.
The adaptability of the suspension matches the versatility of the rest of the bike. The side cases are lockable, water resistant, and easily removable. During my time with the bike, at various times they easily swallowed my laptop bag, camera equipment, rain gear, or enough groceries for dinner with the wife and kids. Add an optional top case and the bike feels like it would rival a small car for everyday cargo capabilities. The proximity of the high-mounted exhaust, sandwiched between the left side case and the rear wheel, had me worried that some of my groceries might get prematurely cooked before reaching home, but an abundance of heat shielding around the muffler and also on the outside of the left case itself meant there was no significant difference in temperature inside the left and right side cases once home. The engineers definitely sweated the details, such that my beer didn’t sweat at all.
Is it worth the money?
Competition in the adventure bike space is small but fierce. BMW might be considered the alpha dog here, although the $20,300 R1200GS and $22,700 R1200GS Adventure are fairly pricey. The KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a bit more reasonable at $19,500, but still $1,400 more costly than the Yamaha. The BMWs include dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment and are about to go even more high-tech with the new 1250 model, while the KTM ups the ante with the “semi-active suspension” that reacts in real time. Suzuki’s V-Strom 1000 ABS is much less costly at $12,999, but lacks the Yamaha’s standard side cases (official V-Strom side cases from Suzuki are $1,400 alone), standard heated grips, cruise control and electronic suspension, and it also falls a bit short on engine displacement.
The adventure bikes in this segment all have similar styling cues cribbed from the Dakar Rally races of past and present. The Super Ténéré’s tall, praying-mantis-looking front end, hand guards, spoked wheels and long travel suspension appear ready for high-speed desert runs standing on the pegs, although the tire-hugging front fender and street-oriented touring tires nix any ideas of going too hard off road. On gravel back roads the bike is composed and capable, the traction control keeping things civilized if the going gets especially loose, but ultimately, the bike is most at home on the pavement, regardless of what the styling might suggest.
The monochrome LCD instrumentation is very similar to the 2018 Tracer 900 I rode recently, with two screens mounted in a rugged bezel with a row of warning lights along the bottom and the turn signal indicator lights above. The larger left screen shows RPM, speed, time, fuel level and the modes for traction control and throttle control. The right screen shows the gear indicator and scrolls through the suspension settings and fuel consumption data depending on the rider’s preference. I would hazard a guess that the next update for the Super Ténéré might include the full-colour LCD display found on the updated 2019 Tracer 900 GT model. Could it also include the GT’s quick shifter as well?
The overwhelming impression I get from this bike is the cliché, “jack of all trades, master of none” scenario, where one could conceivably use this bike commuting during the week, touring during vacation, grocery-getting in the evenings, and having a fair bit of backroad fun, solo or two-up, when the mood arises. The engine is an analogue hammer, the suspension is a digital symphony, yet combined the effect is somehow in harmony. The bike is raw, yet modern, and very well engineered. I suppose that rather than a German sedan, the Super Ténéré is more like the full-sized Lexus GX SUV, a luxury SUV based upon the body-on-frame Toyota Land Cruiser. It is an iron fist in a velvet glove.
2018 Yamaha Super Ténéré GS ABS Key Specs
Engine: 1199 cc inline twin
Curb weight: 265 kg
Torque: 86 ft-lbs. @ 6,000 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,540 mm
Length: 2,255 mm
Seat height: 844 mm low setting, 870mm high setting
Brakes: Dual 310mm discs, 4-piston calipers at front, 282mm disc, single piston caliper at rear, ABS equipped & unified
Front suspension: KYB telescopic inverted 43mm fork, 190mm wheel travel, electronically adjustable preload and damping
Rear suspension: KYB link monocross single shock, 190mm wheel travel, electronically adjustable preload and damping
Tires: 110/80-19 front, 150/70-17 rear